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The Kaskelen valley

In the west of the Ili-Alatau National Park we find the valley of the Kaskelen River, which flows through the town of the same name. Kaskelen was among the first places in Zhetisu, together with Issyk (now Yesik) and Talgar, where Russian customs posts were established. President Nazarbayev was born in the district of Kaskelen, in the village of Shamalghan, which could be why the surrounding areas are so well taken care of. The valley's main attraction is the Uyi-Tas, the Yurt Stone - a giant piece of rock consisting of grey granite in the form of a yurt five metres high and six metres in "diameter, which has stupefied geologists because there is not one crevice in it, nor any other rocks nearby. The stone yurt stands alone on the top of a ridge that flanks the valley. How did this bizarre 500-tonne rock get here? No one has the answer as yet.

The river valley is 30 kilometres long and covered with relatively dense woods in its upper reaches. Logging has created some rough tracks and you can climb a long way up by jeep. The valley has a fork where the "Left" and "Right" Kaskelen flow together shortly before the tree line. Both valleys are good for trekking, especially as there are no crowds. The Left Kaskelen has its origin at the West Kaskelen Pass on the border with Kyrgyzstan. On reaching it you can also carry on to Issyk Kul-a distance of 60 kilometres. The trail follows the Chong-Kemin River valley-there is even a bridge across the river-and crosses the relatively easy West Dyure Pass (3,734 metres). The way down to Issyk Kul is long and smooth, passing the small village of Chyrptykty after just over 30 kilometres.

Up the valley of the Right Kaskelen you reach the Northern and Upper Bassa Dzhaya passes, situated close to one another at heights of 3,770 and 3,830 metres respectively. You can also walk down from them to the Chong-Kemin and from there on to Issyk Kul.